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The Lonesome End
William Nack
October 04, 1993
By standing apart, Bill Carpenter became an All-America at West Point and one of the country's finest soldiers
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October 04, 1993

The Lonesome End

By standing apart, Bill Carpenter became an All-America at West Point and one of the country's finest soldiers

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Carpenter saw himself as a soldier, not a scholar. He never did go to Purdue, and he never got a master's. In 1975, when as a lieutenant colonel he took command of a battalion in Korea, he found a unit in chaos and a new brigade commander, Col. Andrew Cooley, who told him simply, "Take charge and straighten it out."

This was the new volunteer Army, and the straightening took some doing. "No vehicles worked," Carpenter recalls. "There were fights in the officers' club every night. There was a whole generation of lieutenants who thought that it was O.K. to throw their buddies through plate-glass windows. Half the platoon leaders were shacked up in town."

Soldiers were running around with little silver patches on their coveralls. "What do those mean?" Carpenter asked a soldier.

"Each bullet is a case of VD," replied the soldier.

By the time Carpenter left a year later, he had brought order and discipline to the ranks, and Cooley ultimately saw a rare gift at work during tactical maneuvers—the athlete's sense of timing and anticipation, of seeing the whole held and what everybody was doing on it. "It all blended together in a natural way," says Cooley, now a retired two-star. Upon Carpenter's departure Cooley wrote on his efficiency report: "He has the potential to be one of the great battle captains in history."

The Lonesome End finally became a general in 1982. He could have moved up from full colonel to one-star general earlier. That, however, would have required him to give up his brigade command, a post normally held for two years but which he clung to for 33 months. He chose to stay at the lower rank.

Indeed, Carpenter's life as an American soldier stands in vivid contrast to that of his more celebrated teammate, Dawkins, whose career seemed preordained to lead him straight to the White House by way of the desk of the Army Chief of Staff. Dawkins was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, received a doctorate in international relations from Princeton and served three tours in the Pentagon, six years in all, including one as a White House Fellow. While Carpenter spent his career shunning life in the limelight, Dawkins was not so inclined.

Says Cooley, who served with both men, "Bill was always the quiet man who didn't blow his own horn. Dawkins was just the opposite. Here was Bill, who went through the system as a leader, taking all the assignments and not doing the stuff that Dawkins did—the advanced degrees and all—and I think there was a difference in how they eventually came out."

Dawkins left the Army as a one-star general in 1983, joined the Wall Street investment-banking firm of Lehman Brothers and had a brief dalliance with politics when, as a Republican, he lost the race for a U.S. Senate seat in New Jersey in 1988.

Meanwhile Carpenter went on soldiering. And nothing he ever did in his three decades in the Army compares with his work at Fort Drum, 25 miles south of the Canadian border, outside Watertown, N.Y. As a major general, with two stars, Carpenter oversaw the $1.3 billion construction of a state-of-the-art military post, the largest Army building project since World War II, and at the same time built from scratch a reactivated 10th Mountain Division. The division brought 30,000 soldiers and their dependents into the area around Fort Drum, nearly doubling the population. Most of the citizenry had never seen a general, but everyone knew who Carpenter was on the day he first showed up in Watertown, in late 1984, to advise a packed room of businessmen on how to deal with the federal government.

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